Don’t confuse plain language with tone

What is plain language?

Plain language means presenting information in a way that your target audience can understand and use. It is a set of linguistic principles that you apply, for example:

  • simple syntax
  • active voice
  • a user-focused information structure
  • clear headings  
  • no culturally bound words or metaphors

For example: the metaphor, ‘we wash our hands of jargon’ shows a conversational tone but is not plain language. ‘We don’t use jargon’ is a better way of writing this in plain language.

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An example of plain language in an employment contract

A before-and-after example of a plain-language rewrite

There are many ways to write legal content in plain language. Here’s a before-and-after example of a clause from an employment contract. In this case, we kept the tone quite formal and conventional. While the tone might change with context, all #contracts should be written in #PlainLanguage.

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How to be an advocate for clear communication

To be sustainable, a plain-language programme must be aligned with a strategic company aim. The legal team needs to be part of a company-wide training programme with courses that are customised to their needs.

Read our white paper on how to advocate for plain language to find out more about each of these actions:

  • Continue to work within company strategy and to train plain language
  • Remove the split between legal and usable content
  • Think about a framework to support informed decision-making
  • Create multidisciplinary teams
  • Adopt a research-driven approach to terminology
  • End the copying of complicated wording from regulators
  • Pay attention to ‘express consent’ in online agreements, especially when privacy related

How to tell if content is clear: plain-language assessment

Most of us know that clear communication (or plain language) is needed. But there is less agreement on what makes language clear. What does clear communication look like? How do you know if your content complies with the many laws and regulations that require clarity? How do you set up a plain-language assessment that works?

Key points of this overview:

To comply with laws and regulations that mandate plain language, you need to find a way of assessing whether content is clear. Readability formulas aren’t fit for purpose. We suggest that you use reader-focused testing instead, and measure results against an established standard for plain language. Pay attention to the ‘why’ of plain language. Ty to set up creative ways to measure the  clarity of communication in terms of strategic goals such as fairness and transparency.

Read more in our white paper on plain-language assessments.

Content strategy to help develop clear and user-friendly websites

‘Content is king.’ Yet often websites contain information that is irrelevant, out-of-date and unreadable. It is only with a defined content strategy that organisations can give users the content that they want and need – content that is clear and user-friendly, and that complies with laws and regulations.

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Insurance jargon simplified

No longer do consumers tolerate ‘small print’ and unnecessary jargon in insurance. Increasingly, these are viewed as wilful barriers to the truth – as WMDs (Words of Mass Deception). Organisations that continue to use them risk losing the trust of their stakeholders.

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To reap the rewards of clear communication, you must test your documents with customers

Many UK companies are investing in improving their customer communications so that they are written clearly, in a way that´s aligned with Treating Customers Fairly and the Consumer Rights Act. But how do you measure if you are achieving this goal when there are no objective criteria for clear communication or plain language?

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Plain English and Treating Customers Fairly audits

Large companies produce thousands of documents, from adverts to customer-service letters, from annual reports to supplier agreements. A company-wide plain English and Treating Customers Fairly audit allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses, and understand where to focus your efforts.

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Transparency and plain language in the Consumer Rights Act and beyond

Transparent, fair and clear communication is not only about legal compliance: it is also about selling and marketing complex products and services more effectively to customers who are not willing to buy offerings they don’t understand. Transparent content can help reposition your brand to compete in an age of growing consumer power.

Download our white paper to explore how transparent communication can be an opportunity to sharpen innovation, competitiveness and customer-centricity in your business. This is especially critical in the context of the Consumer Rights Act and Treating Customers Fairly regulation.

Building reputation as a transparent investment company

A leading investment firm uses plain English and transparency to differentiate itself from its competitors and build its reputation.

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